Good Advice

Legendary western novelist Richard Wheeler used iUniverse, free of charge, to reprint some of his out-of-print novels through the Authors Guild "Back in Print" program (I did the same thing with MY GUN HAS BULLETS).  He has some good advice for aspiring authors who are thinking about self-publishing their novel.

The quality of a book usually has little to do with its sales numbers at
vanity presses such as iUniverse. Through the Authors Guild back-in-print
program, I have put ten successful reverted novels back in print through
iUniverse. These were all published by reputable NYC houses, including
Doubleday, M. Evans, and Forge (Tom Doherty Associates). One won a Spur Award.
Most were well reviewed.

The annual royalties I receive from iUniverse for all ten titles is around a
hundred dollars. Why? Because iUniverse is at bottom a printer, not a publisher.
It only minimally performs publishing functions, such as editing, copyediting,
and marketing. Nonprofessionals who take the vanity press route are deluding
themselves if they think they are being published, when all they are achieving
is a printing of their material.

I know of no shortcuts: if you can write something powerful and potentially
profitable, you have a chance. If you regularly attend genre fiction
conferences, you will have a good opportunity to meet editors and agents and
make your work known to them.

The vanity press alternative is a printed book, not a published book. It will
supply you with the illusion that you are a published author. But it is only an
illusion. Go for the brass ring. Stretch yourself, discipline your work, get up
at five and write and write and write.

I think he’s absolutely right.  My experience with iUniverse has been a good one… but I didn’t use them to self-publish a novel. 

Back in 1989, my book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS came out from McFarland
& Co, a small publisher in Jefferson, NC. Their books are marketed
almost exclusively to libraries and, at the time, were published
without dust jackets. The title were also very expensive…if memory
serves, the cover price of UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS was about $50.
Although the book did well,  got enormous press coverage (People, USA
Today, Wall Street Journal, The Tonight Show, etc.), and stayed in
print for over a decade (inspiring two hour-long network television
specials along the way), it was still difficult to find and pricey to

So after the book finally fell out of print, I decided to republish it,
at no cost to me, through the iUniverse/Authors Guild "Back in Print"
program. This allowed me to bring out the book in an affordable,
two-volume, paperback edition that is easily available on Amazon, etc.
Am I selling thousands of copies? Not even close. But I’ve probably
sold a couple hundred copies since the two volumes came out and its
money I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The folks at iUniverse have been professional, enthusiastic, reliable
and they turned out a handsome product for me.  For me, iUniverse
provides a useful service…though I doubt I would have done it if it
wasn’t free.

Would I recommend authors with out-of-print titles take advantage of
their "Back in Print" program? Sure. You’ve got nothing to lose and you
might even make a few bucks you wouldn’t otherwise see from old
titles.  Plus your book will be on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. again
in a new edition. I’ve walked into bookstores for signings my new books
and have been surprised several times to see stacks of my
iUniverse/Authors Guild Back-in-Print edition of MY GUN HAS BULLETS
waiting for me on the table, too.

Would I recommend that aspiring authors go to iUniverse to self-publish their novels? Hell no.

35 thoughts on “Good Advice”

  1. I found this equivocation over at POD-DY-mouth. Also the commenter faulted the numbers and said there were hundeds that sold over 500 copies that didn’t make the Star program.

  2. This is the comment made there.
    Anonymous said…
    “Lee has taken these numbers from Publishers Weekly, and they are taken out of context. The 83 titles he mentioned that have sold over 500 copies refer to the Star program. There are hundreds of titles that have sold over 500 copies but were not accepted to the Star program, mine being one of them. If you go to the iUniverse bookstore you will find 85 titles listed under the Star program. It is also worth noting that Lee has published with iUniverse.”
    11:28 AM

  3. I didn’t take anything out of context. Publishers Weekly published that chart with no other context whatsoever. And it’s hardly a secret I’ve republished titles with iUniverse…the covers are over there on the column to the right.

  4. Anonymous wrote: “The 83 titles he mentioned that have sold over 500 copies refer to the Star program.”
    I just went back and looked at the PW article again. I don’t know where he came up with that fact, since its certainly not mentioned on the PW chart online or in their print edition. I suspect Anonymous is an iUniverse employee doing some damage control…

  5. Wheeler puts its very well: an iUniverse book is not a published book, simply a printed one. If that’s all the would-be writer is looking for, more power to them. The bad part about the whole thing is that they deliberate mislead people into thinking that they are somehow publishing a book. That’s wrong. A good scam, but wrong.

  6. I agree David. And Lee. He’s a iU author who claims he sold more than 500 copies, but was rejected for the Star program. You only included the Star program titles 83 in the PW figures. That’s what he’s saying. He may be right, but he’s still missing the point.

  7. Retraction of sorts. I looked at the abstract and it said this:
    “Number of titles that sold at least 500 copies 792,814”
    OK this is the first time I’ve read the abstract but this says 792,814 titles sold 500 copies and only 83 made it onto shelves at B&N.

  8. I am the anonymous that posted on the POD-dy Mouth blog. The following apology has been posted there as well:
    My apologies to Lee Goldberg. When I first saw the numbers on Lee’s site, something seemed fishy. I got in touch with my contact at iU (who I’ve kept in touch with and consider a friend) and asked her about it. She explained why the “83” number was incorrect. Eager to defend my “publisher”, I posted without actually looking at the Publishers Weekly numbers. It was immature, unprofessional, and stupid. Again, my apologies.
    I should clarify that I was not rejected for the Star program. I went with the cheaper package that did not include the editorial review process, which means I wasn’t even qualified to try for the Star program. I suspect many other writers that are financially strapped have done the same. Once I reached the 500 mark, I contacted iU to see what could be done about being considered for the Star program, but since I didn’t go with the editorial review in the beginning they won’t consider it. If you are going to fault them for anything, it should be this. That said, however, I admire the fact that they are the only publisher out there with a system in place (although it is flawed as I just mentioned) to find talented writers. They seem to at least be trying to eradicate the problem (i.e., talented writers getting lost in the ocean of crappy writers).
    One last thing for my buddy Mark. I think you are reading the numbers incorrectly. The number is stated first followed by the subject:
    14: Number of titles sold through B&N’s bricks-and-mortar stores (nationally)
    83: Number of titles that sold at least 500 copies
    There is no need to retract anything.

  9. That said, however, I admire the fact that they are the only publisher out there with a system in place (although it is flawed as I just mentioned) to find talented writers.

    All publishers do. They find talented writers every day. They publish first novels all the time. Publishing is a business. They have editors they pay to read submission and find talented writers. They pay/reward those talented writers with a publishing contract, an advance payment against royalties, and they publish, market and promote their books.
    What is it that you admire about iUniverse? They are a business, too… only writers pay *them* to print their work (not publish, in the true sense)market, and promote the book (though iUniverse does pay royalties on sales). The system is great… if you’re running the POD company. It’s not so great for authors.

  10. “All publishers do. They find talented writers every day. They publish first novels all the time. Publishing is a business. They have editors they pay to read submission and find talented writers. They pay/reward those talented writers with a publishing contract, an advance payment against royalties, and they publish, market and promote their books.”
    All of which begs the question, HOW do they find these talented writers?
    (Btw, I’m learning a lot from this continued discussion.)

  11. Mark, as I stated before, the number “83” is wrong and misleading. It only refers to Star titles. There are many others that reach that 500 mark and never make it to the Star program.
    But the point everyone is making is correct: POD books, even the good ones, don’t sell very well. Anyone who goes this route should go in with their eyes open and with realistic expectations, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it. I exhausted all other possibilities and was rejected time after time. I’m proud of my first novel and wanted to see it in print and have it available to the public. The fee I paid was nothing compared to what I felt after seeing my book in print and hearing some encouraging comments from readers. Sure, POD is isn’t the ideal and I will still try to get published, but it gave me an opportunity to do something with a manuscript that I’ve worked on for 3 years. In the past, there were few other options for people like me. I have no illusions and I understand that I am not a “real” writer, but I am trying.
    And a note to Lee: I wasn’t referring to traditional publishers, but rather to all the writers who go with POD. There are thousands of writers choosing POD, most of whom are not that great. There are, however, dozens of talented writers who are difficult to find due to the large volume of junk. Girl at POD-dy Mouth demonstrates this every week by finding great POD books and reviewing them on her site. To answer your question, that is why I admire iU. They find books that are well written, choose the best ones, and try to help them to succeed. It is definitely not perfect and a lot of good books don’t make it into the program, but it seems they understand the problem and are trying to do something positive about it.

  12. “Mark, as I stated before, the number “83” is wrong and misleading. It only refers to Star titles. There are many others that reach that 500 mark and never make it to the Star program. ”
    *Sigh* There is no star program designation in the figures from PW. That’s all that sold 500 in a given year. Please attempt to poke the bubble. iUniverse sells services to rejected authors. That’s all the company is about. Moreover, there is no need of a farm team in publishing according to a Random House editor I interviewed in the process of getting my work rejected. The slushpiles runneth over. All are read. That’s where they find new authors and the agents piles work the same way. You’re beating a dead horse. If you don’t have a sale with 75 to 100 submissions, write another book. It generally takes three to get one to hit.

  13. *double sigh* No kidding, that is the whole point. The numbers are wrong and they don’t specify that they are referring to only to Star titles. As I mentioned before, you can go to iUniverse, look under the Star titles section and you will see a total of 85 titles. My book is not a Star title and yet I have sold 572 copies to date. Do you think they just overlooked little old me? I suspected that they made a mistake and that there are hundreds of authors like myself. My e-mail to iU confirmed that I was correct. Never mind, I don’t think I’m getting through, and this conversation is really starting to annoy me.
    Of course I’m writing another book. Any writer worth his/her salt can’t help but write. And as I mentioned, I will continue to try to be published. Based on the response I received from my first novel, I’m sure that one day I’ll succeed. The point is that I’m not ready to throw away three years of my life just because it was rejected or because you think self-publishing is bad. I got it out there, marketed it, sold some copies, and moved on to the next project. The future looks bright, although I’m not sure I can say the same for you. You are one of the most negative people I have ever met. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying to end this conversation in a gracious way for some time now (conceding a point here and there, pointing out your inability to read some numbers in a polite way, etc.) Maybe you should get a clue and drop it already.

  14. Mark has never dropped a point, so don’t expect him to start now.
    I’m curious as to how many of those 572 books were sold to you, your friends, family or others you know. That’s the real trick with a self-published or vanity book: making sales to strangers.
    By the way, if you’re trying to make a career as a writer, I would recommend not hiding behind “anonymous.” Get your name out there!

  15. I originally posted on the POD-dy Mouth blog as anonymous because I was in a hurry. I’m lucky I did since I terribly embarassed myself when I accused Lee of something he didn’t do. I’ve smacked my forehead more than once over this. Anyway, at this point I can’t reveal my name without further embarassment. Not that anybody here has ever heard of me, but still…
    Yes, I force-fed my book to my family and friends, but they would have bought it anyway (at least I hope they would have). I’ll take a sale from them or anyone else. I wish I could say that I have over 500 friends and family members, but alas, I am not that loved. You’re right, it is extremely hard to get a stranger to buy a work of fiction from an author they have never heard of, but I’m proud to say that most of my sales are from strangers.

  16. “The future looks bright, although I’m not sure I can say the same for you. You are one of the most negative people I have ever met.”
    I see who has the clues and who doesn’t. You’ve embarassed yourself enough I agree with that. You haven’t met me and won’t, but I’ve met many of you. They all say the same thing, just like the Publishamerica victims: a weak fallacy-riddled defence of a bad publishing decision. This isn’t self-publishing it’s vanity publishing due to the capital flow. Probably the only defense of vanity publishing is in nonfiction, which mine are, but never a novel. That’s the first rule.
    If you want to declare 300 copies to strangers and the rest to family a success have at it. Everyone in the publishing business knows exactly what that is. Reality can be an SOB. That has nothing to do with my personal attributes. I have a few comments about yours that I’ll keep to myself. The profile is generic.

  17. Who said I considered a few hundred copies a success? Of course it is not a success, although it sold better than I expected. I really didn’t have any expectations and only wanted in print. Since your books are nonfiction (and we all know that nonfiction tends to sell better than fiction) then surely your books have sold more than my measly 572 copies. Please feel free to share.
    “A bad publishing decision”? You made that “bad decision” not once, but twice. And now you are trying to say that it is okay because it is nonfiction? Come on, Mark, I’m not buying it. I like how you guys criticize POD and then make exceptions for your particular instance. “Oh, it is nonfiction so it’s okay.” “Well, it was an out-of-print so it’s okay.” Give me a break. You utilize this great technology and then turn your nose up at anyone who uses it.
    I haven’t met you? People like you are everywhere. In fact, you remind me of a character in my next book: a bumbling know-it-all who always has something critical to say and never has a positive word about anything or anybody. He serves as a comic relief but in the end is just a flat character that doesn’t contribute much to the story. You are so inspiring in this regard, Mark, that I think I’ll name him after you.

  18. Let me be blunt: you’re an ad hominem vanity fool. I discourage all vanity publishing. I do so for having tried it as an experiment. That’s the problem your ilk has with me. I’m the only one with vanity work that refutes the value of it. The books are worthless, yours mine and all others entered this way. It’s the venue, not the work. So you need to attack me to save face. So pitiful. Ask any published author. Specialized nonfiction is the only use for vanity presses. I don’t even like it for that. I’ll eagarly await your next effort from Publishamerica. Whoever you are, you’ll be there. It’s free!

  19. The follow up question from David’s numbers of stranger-readers is this: How much did you spend to get them? I did nothing and between the two books I spent $99. I think I recouped half of that in royalties. Only the iU book cost me anything at all. That’s how old my experiment is.

  20. You know Mark, this could go on forever. We agree on so much I don’t even know why we are arguing.
    1. We are both aspiring writers who have “published” using POD. We both know it is not the ideal way to go and we both will continue to try landing a deal with a traditional publisher.
    2. After reading your blog I realize that we are both pro-science and hate pseudoscience. We both dislike the efforts by the religous right to teach Intelligent Design in the classroom.
    3. We are both liberal democrats.
    Do we really need to keep arguing about this? I do wish to apologize for my personal attacks against you–it is a natural defensive reaction for anyone who feels attacked, but that is no excuse. We will just have to agree to disagree on the finer points. Again, I offer my sincerest apologies. I’m sure you will be a big enough person to do the same.
    P.S. For the benefit of those who don’t know, PublishAmerica is a scam. Regardless of what you decide to do with your book, this is a company that you should not use under any circumstance. Lee has said that if you do decide to self-publish (although he doesn’t recommend it), iUniverse is the way to go. My experience with them has been great I agree with this advice.

  21. P.S. For the benefit of those who don’t know, PublishAmerica is a scam. Regardless of what you decide to do with your book, this is a company that you should not use under any circumstance. Lee has said that if you do decide to self-publish (although he doesn’t recommend it), iUniverse is the way to go.

    You got it right!

  22. Certainly agree on that. Eventually all writers who try self-publishing in whatever form realize it was a mistake. Until they do, it’s the critic who gets punched. See what Jim Macdonald says about this.
    “I’m sure you will be a big enough person to do the same.”
    I accept your apology, but I don’t owe one. The truth should never be apologized for to anyone. Good luck.

  23. I guess whether or not it is a mistake for everyone is one of those points on which we will have to agree to disagree. I went into it with no expectations and ended up being pleased in every way. As I mentioned, my experience with iUniverse was outstanding and I sold more books than expected. I can’t think of any negative aspects of having gone this route. I have lost nothing and learned a lot. I even made a couple bucks.
    I have also answered your question below for the edification of others. It is not necessary to spend a great deal of money when marketing and promoting your book. Below are a couple of things I did during the process:
    1. Use your personal contacts and create a buzz. This works especially well if you know anyone that works for news stations, radio, newspapers, and other regional publications. I happen to have an ex-coworker whose wife was a producer at a local news station. After telling them about the book she decided to do a piece on me. They kept it in their back pocket until there was a slow news night, but the results were great. It ended up getting me two interviews on local radio stations.
    2. Organize book signings. In my experience it was easier to organize these with independent bookstores rather than chains. Keep in mind, however that you need to publicize these events–you don’t want to be sitting there by yourself! I secured the date for a book signing after the piece on the news but before my radio interviews, so I used those interviews to publicize the book signing. The turn out was great and the bookstore sold every copy they had. After the event they agreed to stock the book.
    3. Start a web site. I know what you’re thinking, but it can be a great way to market yourself and your work. I think Lee and other writers have done a great job with this. I have a friend who has created an online comic book. The web site attracted some great traffic, so when he published his novel, which told the back story to the comic, it sold very quickly. The last I heard he is closing in on 1,000 books sold. This is the only marketing he has done.
    4. Become involved in online communities, like this one. Our friend Mark has utilized this very well. I have seen his posts all over the place–prolific quotes on multiple sites. What you want to do is make positive and thoughtful comments and make a good name for yourself in these communities. Everytime Mark or anyone else posts that is another advertisement for themselves. If someone sees your name enough, eventually they will click on it and check out your web site. The impression you have made and the reputation you create for yourself will determine whether or not you sell any books through this method.
    5. Write a great book! I mean really great, and don’t take your mom’s word for it either. I guess I should have made this point number one, because without this all the marketing in the world won’t sell books.
    This advice is not only for self-published or vanity authors. Once you land that big deal with a traditional publisher, chances are you will still be required promote your book. We all have dreams of getting that six-figure advance and being whisked away on a nation-wide tour, hitting all the t.v. talk shows, but that is just not how it works (usually). No matter who you are, you will need to invest a great deal of time (and sometimes a little money) in your work.

  24. You guys should check out Girl’s latest Q&A with an agent on POD-dyMouth:
    Girl: If you like a book, do you care if it was once published POD?
    Agent Three: No. In fact, I sold a book last year that was a POD title. I found it in a bookstore near my home and thought, “what a great book. I wonder who published this.” When I realized it was self-published, I hunted down the author and offered to represent her. I sold it four days later for $45,000.

    Girl: Anything you want to add?
    Agent Three: It is a tough book market. But it has been worse. Think about who will read your book. If the audience is severely limited, you might want to try POD first as a way to build sales first.

  25. Never invest money in promoting your work. In a marginal effort, it will sink the operation even further. The agent found the POD in a store, albeit used. What’s that tell you? All the only stuff represents a tiny amount of the book market. Same with signings and promotions. Anon set the bar low and is happy. It’s still low expectaions.

  26. Are you saying that Lee shouldn’t spend money for this web site to promote himself and his work? Every writer spends money in pursuit of their dream: it could be a computer and website, or printing manuscripts to send to potential agents and publishers, or hiring an editor to help polish your work. I’m not saying that you should go out and waste a bunch of money, but if you are not going to invest in promoting yourself and making your dreams come true, why would anyone else?

  27. Anon, I’m not going to continue having this misinterpreted thesis/conversation with you. Go talk to Jim Macdonald at absolutewrite and see what he says. Everyone has a website. I spend nothing on my my two save web access. Online books sales are next to nil no matter what your do. Don’t get exstitential on me. It’s an overgeneralization fallacy the way you use it. Go do your assignment. Tell Jim I sent you.

  28. Never invest money in promoting your work.

    That’s bad advice, Mark. You should invest money promoting your work…but you should spend it wisely. Spending money to self-publishing your novel is a mistake. But if you do it, then you’ve better be willing to spend a LOT more to promote it.
    I spend money to promote my books…I go to signings, I go to conventions, I send out mailing, and I maintain this blog and a website. If you aren’t willing to invest in promotion, don’t bother writing your book.

  29. I wouldn’t for a self-published book. Most do and fail. With an advance I suppose I’d do mailings but the website is a given anyway. Still, doing it I get hardly any sales. I’d be interested in how many you get due to promotional activities? Your best pitch is sitting on a shelf at BN nationwide. You have two copies in Twin Falls, ID. There were no vanity press books in there. I’ll take your methods any day.

  30. The thing is, without promotion, nobody is going to go looking for those two books at the B&N in Twin Falls, ID. It will be just another of the 20,000 books, spine out.

  31. But doesn’t your publisher promote the titles? And set up appearances? If you go to the mystery aisle you and Carl Hiaasen can be found in the same glance. That’s damn good promotion. I’ve always had free chapters of mine online at all the stores, but I see no indication anyone has or will read them, other than the two slam reviews. Op-eds are a good way to generate buzz in the papers if related to the book topic.


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